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August 15, 2019 - Image 7

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Publication:
The Michigan Daily

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“You can never publish my love,”
Rogue Wave chants, in the song that
the title of this series riffs on. Maybe
that’s true, and we can never quite
account for our love on paper or in
print, but we sure can try. That’s
what this series is devoted to: pub-
lishing our love. Us, the Arts section
of The Michigan Daily, talking about
artists, some of the people we love
the most. Perhaps these are futile
approximations of love for the poet
who told us we deserve to be heard,
the director who changed the way
we see the world, the singer we see
as an old friend. But who ever said
futile can’t still be beautiful?
Last summer, I spent a lot of
time wandering around Boston
listening to music. I wasn’t lonely,
exactly — I was living with my
best friend — but we both worked,
and I was often alone, on the bus
to a catering gig or entering data
into a spreadsheet at my intern-
ship. Every week, I walked from
our third-floor bedroom in Mis-
sion Hill to the main branch of the
downtown library, which was a
two-mile straight shot down Hun-
tington Avenue, and I listened to
The Be Good Tanyas.
I first heard The Be Good Tan-
yas when my mom checked out one
of their CDs from our local library
in Philadelphia. I was in elemen-
tary school, six or seven years old,
and I listened to what she listened
to: Joni Mitchell, Norah Jones, a
rotating mix of folk singers and

women whose voices sounded like
bird calls. The album from the
library was Blue Horse, The Be
Good Tanyas’ 2001 debut, and we
listened to it on the orange wooden
stereo system my parents kept in
the living room alcove.
When I rediscovered The Be
Good Tanyas in high school, I liked
Blue Horse for its nostalgic power.
Still, their music was like an arti-
cle of clothing I was holding onto
until it fit. Each one of their songs
was a meditation on emotions I
hadn’t experienced yet — the real,
grown-up variations on the fledg-
ling feelings of adolescence. The
Be Good Tanyas seem to inhabit
the kind of fullness that is created
by acknowledging it, by wanting it.
Their music made me want to be
the kind of person who would look
for this largesse.
During sophomore year of col-
lege, I got back into the Tanyas
— not just Blue Horse, but also
Chinatown
(2003)
and
Hello
Love (2006). That spring, I played
“Draft Daughter’s Blues” for a guy
I liked. I wanted to impress him
with my obscure music taste (ugh),
and I also thought the way he
might understand me through the
song was the way I wanted to be
understood: “Impossible to keep a
straight line / Too young to keep
these bitter hearts / And all around
me, somebody’s singin’ / Get back,
get back.”
But even as we listened to it, I

was already imagining him into
the mythology of my own life,
wondering how future-me would
explain to someone else what our
relationship had been. I was think-
ing about how he would fade into
a character who only mattered for
the ways he exposed something
truthful about me, my desires, my
selfishness, my tendency to refuse
to cede the moral high ground
even when maintaining my posi-
tion meant hurting the people I
cared about. As much as I didn’t
like thinking this way, there was
something good about it, too,
knowing I was figuring out unflat-
tering truths about myself. I left
for Boston as soon as school ended,
ready to find out if the person I’d
become in college was a product
of my influences or something less
malleable.
When I listened to The Be
Good Tanyas in Boston last sum-
mer, I finally felt they were sing-
ing to me, about things I was old
enough to understand. “Keep it
light enough to travel / Don’t let it
all unravel,” vocalist Frazey Ford
sings on “Light Enough to Trav-
el.” This was what I was after in
Boston: an impossible balance, a
mixture of freedom and security
with equal portions of each. More
concrete lyrics struck me, too:
“Promise me we won’t go into the
nightclub / I really think that it’s
obscene / What kind of people go
to meet people / Where they can’t

be heard or seen.” I like how the
Be Good Tanyas sing about finding
a nightclub obscene without com-
ing across as frumpy. This became
something I want to say: “Don’t
you think nightclubs are obscene?”
Obscene.
That summer, I wrote in my
journal that I worried my person-
ality was a “mish-mash of everyone
I’ve ever admired and that I have
no original ideas or interests.” It’s
ironic, then, that The Be Good Tan-
yas have joined the conglomerate
of people whose personalities and
interests I have pawned and emu-
lated. I stumbled on my version of
the anxiety of influence last sum-
mer — a set of fears which is itself
derivative, proving my point that
nothing exists outside of its cir-
cumstances. It’s true that I spent
a month crafting detailed, snarky
diary entries after I read David
Sedaris’s “Theft by Finding,” and
it’s true that I bought my black car-
penter pants because I saw them
on Man Repeller. Whatever!
The Be Good Tanyas are a
part of this, giving me something
less concrete to steal: a mindset,
a way of walking around while
I’m listening to their music in my
headphones. I’ve decided to stop
feeling uncomfortable about this,
because cribbing from the people
I admire is just the way life works

— and it’s even better to give credit
to everyone I’ve copied some-
thing from. A non-exhaustive list:
Caroline’s Swedish clogs, Claire’s
razor brand, Nora Ephron’s motto
(everything is copy!), Summer’s
obsession with the eye makeup in
“Euphoria,” the star-shaped hoops
on that girl in my English class.
Sally’s middle-school cell phone
and Rory Gilmore’s journalism
aspirations. Also, a million other
things.
In an editorially satisfying twist,
The Be Good Tanyas are notorious
for covering other people’s songs.
“The Lakes of Pontchartrain”
dates to the 19th century. “For the
Turnstiles” is a Neil Young song.
They’ve covered Prince and Blind
Willie Johnson, and a version of
“House of the Rising Sun” fits
nicely into an album of their origi-
nal songs. The Be Good Tanyas
aren’t shy about reworking other
people’s material, which seems to
support my theory that the most
interesting people have forgotten
all about the anxiety of influence.
What I want — what the Tanyas
have embraced — is the serenity of
influence, the confidence of influ-
ence, the creative thrill of turn-
ing someone else’s thing into your
thing and forgetting to be embar-
rassed that someone else always
did it first.

7
ARTS

Thursday, August 15, 2019
The Michigan Daily — michigandaily.com

My time with the Tanyas

DESIGN BY KATHRYN HALVERSON

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